“A thousand miles of cannibal lands”: imagining away genocide in the re-colonization of West Papua

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Following recent calls to monitor intensifications of settler-colonial structures (Journal of Genocide Research, Vol 9, No 4, 2007, p 403), this article focuses on an as yet poorly recognized site of settler-colonial violence against indigenous peoples. Rather than engaging in what the author argues is ultimately a fruitless and potentially diversionary debate over whether the killings, massacres, disappearances and structural elimination of West Papuans amount, conceptually, to genocide, this article focuses on the kinds of discursive and epistemic violence that provide the enabling backbone and camouflage for genocidal practices. The larger questions with which the paper engages is why it is that we remain so reluctant to detect the crime of genocide, and what it is that popularly diverts our attention? In the modern era, when a body of international human rights law maintains some, if largely ineffectual, global scrutiny, it is not only the acquiescent consent of settlers on the scene that needs manufacturing for structural genocide and genocidal events to occur. In the context of globalized markets for, and consumption of, discursive representations, modern genocides are being sold to, and allowed to happen by, all of us. With a particular focus on the spectacle of cannibalism, this article explores what the author argues is a text-book example of the kind of discursive footwork that has historically accompanied colonialism's genocidal structures, and has allowed genocide to masquerade as criminally neutral (unintentional fatal impact or simply progress), or morally compelling (civilizing missions, assimilation, or development). Finally, in exploring the reflected presence of claims of cannibalism and savagery in the face-to-face violence of Indonesian occupation in West Papua, this article also argues for bringing debates about genocide back from the brink of over-analysis. As has been well advanced to date, dimensions of genocide studies threaten to tip the balance of debates so that genocide becomes a concept rather than crime, and a concept that is severed from the blunt physicality of determined and sustained attempts at mass extermination. An over-determined 'genocide,' the paper argues, is a temporized genocide, and one which therefore opens crucial space in debates for re-engaging precisely the kinds of colonial discourses that enable, excuse and even naturalize genocide in the first place.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14623520802447743

Publication date: December 1, 2008

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